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Friends and Flatterers by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s “Friends and Flatterers” makes us knowledgeable in being able to distinguish between good friends who always wish the best for us and lousy company who are actually our foes in disguise, wishing for us to go on the wrong track. Friendships are some of the most important relationships humans make in their lifetime. Through the camaraderie of friends, one grows and evolves and learns the art of loving selflessly and, most importantly, the art of living to the fullest.

As goes the common proverb, “A man is known by the company he keeps,” which is a universal truth because if a person falls into the wrong companionship, life becomes terrible as hell. Haven’t our parents warned us from time to time about the dangers of having bad friends and how important it is to surround ourselves with good people? This understanding is the main thematic content of William Shakespeare’s poem.

William Shakespeare is one of English Literature’s most well-known figures whose writings still continue to reign the minds of academicians and literature enthusiasts. Shakespeare’s timeless plays, awe-inspiring sonnets, heart-warming poems are considered iconic classics of English literature. Such is the beauty of Shakespearean words that they thread the reality of life even today.

  • Read the full poem “Friends and Flatterers” below:
Friends and Flatterers
by William Shakespeare

Every one that flatters thee
Is no friend in misery.
Words are easy, like the wind;
Faithful friends are hard to find:

Every man will be thy friend
Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend;
But if store of crowns be scant,
No man will supply thy want.

If that one be prodigal,
Bountiful they will him call,
And with such-like flattering,
'Pity but he were a king;'

If he be addict to vice,
Quickly him they will entice;
If to women he be bent,
They have at commandement:

But if Fortune once do frown,
Then farewell his great renown
They that fawn'd on him before
Use his company no more.

He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need:
If thou sorrow, he will weep;
If thou wake, he cannot sleep;

Thus of every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear a part.
These are certain signs to know
Faithful friend from flattering foe.
Analysis of Friends and Flatterers by William Shakespeare


Summary

The poem “Friends and Flatterers” begins with how true friends do not flatter us with false words because words are always easy while actual acts of service are not. The lines talk about how people can be fair-weather friends, that is, they are friends with us only when the time is good or when we have a lot of money to spend in good times. These kinds of friends, however, when times are bad, would leave us soon enough. They do not once look back to how we are doing or going through our hard times.

Finding trustworthy, faithful friends is a scarce situation since they are tough to find. They are the ones who would stick with us through thick and thin, through good days and bad. Understanding this difference is extremely important to trace how our lives would turn out to be. Shakespeare’s poem preaches this universal truth.

Meaning

“Friends and Flatterers” describes how to differentiate between friends and enemies. The “certain signs” that tell us how to do so should be given attention so that we can have meaningful experiences in our lives. Then we can live fully in the companionship of our true friends. Through the poem, Shakespeare tells us how bad friends feed upon our darker sides or impulses, pushing us in the wrong direction. So acting upon their flattery can ruin our lives forever.

On the other hand, true friends would comfort us on our most miserable days, be with us and guide us towards the light present inside of us, taking us out from the darkness. They would highlight the good and positive aspects of our character. In their presence, we will have happiness plentiful in our lives.

Form, Rhyme Scheme, & Meter

The poem “Friends and Flatterers” consists of seven quatrains: each stanza having four internally rhyming lines. The speaker of the poem is the poet himself. His poetic persona and authority emerge from his profound wisdom, which he imparts to his readers as a piece of universal advice. He uses the second-person point of view to address the readers in the beginning directly. Then he jumps to the third-person perspective to counselling humankind (as a whole) against having unlikely company, leading us to our ruins. Besides, this piece is written in a regular meter and rhyme scheme that brings out a lyrical quality.

Rhyme Scheme

The quatrains have the AABB rhyme scheme, which means that the last words of the first and second lines and the last words of the third and fourth lines rhyme with one another. When two lines end with a similar rhyme, it is also called a couplet. Therefore, each stanza consists of two couplets. This pertains to all the stanzas in the poem, thus creating a sing-song-like effect throughout. Let’s have a look at the rhyming pair of words from each stanza:

  • Stanza One: “thee” and “misery”; “wind” and “find.”
  • Stanza Two: “friend” and “spend”; “scant” and “want.”
  • Stanza Three: “prodigal” and “call”; “flattering” and “king.”
  • Stanza Four: “vice” and “entice”; “bent” and “commandement.”
  • Stanza Five: “frown” and “renown”; “before” and “more.”
  • Stanza Six: “indeed” and “need”; “weep” and “sleep.”
  • Stanza Seven: “heart” and “part”; “know” and “foe.”


Meter

The knowledge of poetic meter helps us to understand how to read or sound while reading a text. Shakespeare’s “Friends and Flatterers” is written in a regular meter. Each line of the text contain seven syllables; for instance, “Eve-ry one that flat-ters thee.” While reading, we have to stress (pronounce forcefully) the first syllable of each line.

Then, we have to leave the next syllable unstressed, and the following syllable will be stressed. In this way, we can find each line has three iambs or iambic feet; an iamb/ iambic foot contains an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. The first stressed syllable would be taken as a separate foot, which is called an acephalous foot. So, the overall poem is written in iambic tetrameter; the rhythm is: “dum/ da-dum/ da-dum/ da-dum.”

This scheme has to be continued until the end, creating a beautiful rhythm while reciting the text aloud. Let’s have a look at the scansion of the poem. The bold syllables are stressed, and the rest is unstressed. While reading, keep the scanned text open; it would make the reading more exciting.

Eve/-ry one/ that flat/-ters thee

Is/ no friend/ in mi/-se-ry.

Words/ are ea/-sy, like/ the wind;

Faith/-ful friends/ are hard/ to find:

(pronounce “wind” as “waind”; in Shakespeare’s time, some words have such peculiar pronunciation.)

Eve/-ry man/ will be/ thy friend

Whilst/ thou hast/ where-with/ to spend;

But/ if store/ of crowns/ be scant,

No/ man will/ sup-ply/ thy want.

If/ that one/ be pro/-di-gal,

Boun/-ti-ful/ they will/ him call,

And/ with such/-like flat/-ter-ing,

Pi/-ty but/ he were/ a king;’

If/ he be/ ad-dict/ to vice,

Quick/-ly him/ they will/ en-tice;

If/ to wo/-men he/ be bent,

They/ have at/ com-man/-de-ment:

But/ if For/-tune once/ do frown,

Then/ fare-well/ his great/ re-nown

They/ that fawn’d/ on him/ be-fore

Use/ his com/-pa-ny/ no more.

He/ that is/ thy friend/ in-deed,

He/ will help/ thee in/ thy need:

If/ thou sor/-row, he/ will weep;

If/ thou wake,/ he can/-not sleep;

Thus/ of eve/-ry grief/ in heart

He/ with thee/ doth bear/ a part.

These/ are cer/-tain signs/ to know

Faith/-ful friend/ from flat/-t(e)ring foe.

(pronounce “flat-ter-ing” as “flat-tring”; dropping a vowel sound is called elision.)


Poetic Devices & Figures of Speech

Shakespeare, the old master of poetry, is known for his exceptional use of figures of speech. His poetic devices have the power to make readers think, most importantly, imagine beyond the accepted perception. In “Friends and Flatterers,” Shakespeare uses such exciting devices that are worth mentioning below:

Simile

When two things are compared using “like,” or “as” in a line, then the poetic device is considered a simile. For instance, in the first stanza of “Friends and Flatterers,” Shakespeare compares “words” to the “wind”: “Words are easy, like the wind”. In this example, the speaker compares the flatterer’s comments (words) to as weightless (valueless) as the wind. It also occurs in the line, “And with such-like flattering”.

Metaphor

Metaphor is the comparison of two distant ideas or objects in an implicit manner. For instance, “store of crowns” is a metaphor for good fortune. When a person has abundant resources, every other person becomes their friend or competes to be their friend.

In the line, “They have at commandement,” Shakespeare compares the biblical Ten Commandments to social conventions. Rich people know how to bend the rules. When they do so, others consider the violation a norm or part of divine commandment.

Personification

Personification is the assigning of human characteristics to non-human beings or objects. In this poem, “Fortune” (luck), an abstract idea, is personified to say if Fortune is not in a person’s favour, all his fair-weather friends would desert him and run to the fortunate ones. The poet also implicitly personifies “renown” or fame in the line, “Then farewell his great renown.” Another abstract idea (fame) is compared to a human being.

Alliteration

The repetition of similar sounds (consonants or vowels) at the beginning of neighbouring words is called alliteration. In “Friends and Flatterers,” it occurs in a number of instances that include:

  • that flatters thee” (line 1)
  • Faithful friends” (line 4)
  • hast wherewith” (line 6)
  • “he be bent” (line 15)
  • They that fawn’d” (line 19)
  • “He that is thy” (line 21)
  • “help thee in thy” (line 22)
  • thee doth” (line 26)
  • certain signs” (line 27)
  • Faithful friend from flattering foe.” (line 28)

In line 28, all the words begin with the “f” sound; it is also an example of consonance.

Allusion

In the third stanza, “If that one be prodigal,” could be an allusion to the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the Bible. Generally, an allusion is an indirect reference to another literary work, author, historical event, etc. The term “prodigal” comes from Latin prodigus meaning “lavish”.

In the parable, a father has two sons. The younger son requests his part of the inheritance from the father. Being prodigal or extravagant, he wastes his fortune and returns home empty-handed. Upon return, his father accepts him back with open-heartedness. In this poem, Shakespeare warns readers not to be like the prodigal son in Christ’s parable.

In the fourth stanza, “They have at commandement,” is another biblical allusion, used in a humorous way. It is a reference to the Ten Commandments.

Inversion or Hyperbaton

Shakespeare deviates from general rules of sentence pattern in “Friends and Flatterers.” He inverts the accepted placement of parts of speech for the sake of internal rhyming and metrical pattern. This feature is a stylistic aspect of poetry. For instance, the line, “Bountiful they will him call,” can be read as “They will call him bountiful.” The exact figure of speech is applied to the following lines:

  • “Quickly him they will entice;”
  • “If to women he be bent,”
  • “Then farewell his great renown”

Anaphora

In the sixth stanza, the first two lines begin with the same word, “He.” It is a use of anaphora. It also occurs in the following two lines beginning with the phrase “If thou”. It is meant for the sake of readers’ attention.

He that is thy friend indeed,

He will help thee in thy need:

If thou sorrow, he will weep;

If thou wake, he cannot sleep;

Irony

Shakespeare uses this device in several instances. It is used to refer to an incident that seems deliberately contrary to our expectations. For instance, the speaker says, “Every man will be thy friend”, and the argument is supported by the ironic remark, “Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend.”

Hyperbole

The exaggerated statements of flatterers, such as “Pity but he were a king” and the speaker’s satirical remark, “They have at commandement,” contain the use of this device.

Epigram

An epigram is a short, pithy remark expressing an underlying truth in a clever and amusing manner. In this poem, the speaker epigrammatically notes:

He that is thy friend indeed,

He will help thee in thy need:

If thou sorrow, he will weep;

If thou wake, he cannot sleep;


Line-by-Line Analysis and Explanation

Lines 1-4

Every one that flatters thee

Is no friend in misery.

Words are easy, like the wind;

Faithful friends are hard to find:

In the first stanza of “Friends and Flatterers,” the speaker says that flatterers can never be one’s actual friends who would stay by one’s side in misery. They praise us in order to gain something, but true friends always speak the truth. That’s why “Faithful friends” are a rare find since not many people can give up selfishness to become genuine friends; as Aristotle says, “All flatterers are mercenary, and all low-minded men are flatterers.”

Lines 5-8

Every man will be thy friend

Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend;

But if store of crowns be scant,

No man will supply thy want.

The speaker once again warns against people who surround us when we have plenty to spend. He says that when we have resources to spend on useless things, some people will always be our comrades. They will encourage and support us to spend more until, at last, we have nothing left. After eating up on our good times, they desert us and find another host. They will never support the one they left behind even though he had supported them with “store of crowns.” Crown is a British coin with a face value of five shillings or 25 pence, minted during the Elizabethan period. The phrase “store of crowns” symbolises wealth and riches.

Lines 9-12

If that one be prodigal,

Bountiful they will him call,

And with such-like flattering,

‘Pity but he were a king;’

The first line of this stanza alludes to the story of the “Prodigal Son” in the Bible. The prodigal son had fair-weather friends that flattered him all the time and treated him as a king, but the moment he lost his father’s wealth, all their flattery and praise vanished. They left the person alone to dwell in his miserable condition.

With the allusion to the prodigal son, the speaker describes how the fawners call one “Bountiful” or generous if he is a spendthrift or prodigal. Their greed does not end here. They even wish such a man to be a king. Then they would receive favour from that person with their selfish sweet-talk.

Lines 13-16

If he be addict to vice,

Quickly him they will entice;

If to women he be bent,

They have at commandement:

If a man has an inclination towards vice or wrongdoing, the boasting friends would entice him further upon those dark paths and not prevent him. They would trap, eventually leading him to move along that path that would eventually lead him to his own moral destruction. If that man becomes fond of women, the fiendish friends will support him to have him under the control of sensual pleasure. They would say that such behaviour is accepted in their commandment or moral standards. In this way, they push the person even closer to the edge of the dismal abyss of moral declination.

Lines 17-20

But if Fortune once do frown,

Then farewell his great renown

They that fawn’d on him before

Use his company no more.

Shakespeare personifies the abstract idea of “Fortune” in the first line and says that if luck turns away from the person, all his renown immediately vanishes. All the flattery, the compliments, the praises he grew used to are muted suddenly. Those who were there fawning upon his generosity do no longer cross his path. Their fondness for the person evaporates along with the reduction of his resources.

Lines 21-24

He that is thy friend indeed,

He will help thee in thy need:

If thou sorrow, he will weep;

If thou wake, he cannot sleep;

The poet draws clear distinctions between friends and flatterers from this stanza onwards. He shows what genuine friends would do when the person runs out of luck or is in grave need of help. According to him, one’s true friends will always help them in their needs. They will feel the same and sympathise with the friend in sorrow. They cannot sleep if their friend is awake out of misery and helplessness. True friends will always be there to comfort and help those in need.

In this way, Shakespeare asks by addressing his readers to realise the importance of true friendship. In a manner, our parents are our all-weather friends who feel the same as described in the poem. It can be anyone who understands the real meaning of “friendship,” be it the dog wagging its tail to be loved or a bird coming each day, tweeting the same lyrics for a bit of grain.

Lines 25-28

Thus of every grief in heart

He with thee doth bear a part.

These are certain signs to know

Faithful friend from flattering foe.

The last stanza is a continuation of the idea in the previous stanza. Shakespeare describes how true friends carry their fellow friend’s burdens to make things easier for them. They not only try to be part of our happy moments but also try to have a share of our sad thoughts. According to the speaker, these are “certain signs” that can help one distinguish friends from flatterers. In the last line, he hints at the fact that a fair-weather friend is nothing but a “flattering foe.” One has to be cautious to forge friendships with such sweet-talking foes.

Theme

“Friends and Flatterers” imparts wisdom about true and false friends. The main themes of the poem are genuine friendship, flattery, and perception versus reality. Through this poem, Shakespeare describes how friends and flatterers (fair-weather friends) behave differently in particular situations in life. A person should notice those changes to figure out which friendships to keep and cherish throughout life. They need to cut off temporary relationships with fawners to eliminate negativity. In this way, Shakespeare provides both a warning and a piece of advice which is why the poem is so important to be read until today, even though it was written centuries back.

Historical Background

The poet of “Friends and Flatterers,” William Shakespeare, was active during the 16th-century. He was a prominent figure of the Elizabethan Renaissance. His writing is considered canonical. All his works have been read, interpreted, and appreciated by multiple people across the centuries. He was the man behind the famous Globe Theatre in London, where all his famous tragedies and plays were officially staged. This Shakespearean poem is the source of several modern-day sayings that people often use. Though it was written in the 16th-century, its appeal has never been shrouded.

Questions and Answers

What moral lesson do you get from the poem “Friends and Flatterers”?

William Shakespeare’s poem “Friends and Flatterers” imparts the moral lesson that a friend in need is a friend indeed. The poet describes how to differentiate a true friend from a sweet-talking foe.

Who, according to the poet, are trustworthy friends in “Friends and Flatterers”?

According to the poet, trustworthy friends are those who stand by us on our good as well as bad days. They never desert us during moments of trouble or times of dire need.

What is the mood of the speaker of the poem “Friends and Flatterers”?

The mood of the speaker remains calm, compassionate, and humorous throughout the poem. He teaches us the art of differentiating real friends from fair-weather flatterers.

Why should we not trust a flattering friend like a real friend?

We should not ever trust a flattering friend like a real friend as they use us for their advantage and derail us from morality. When their need dries up, they desert us coldly without looking back once.

What does the poet say about flatterers?

According to the poet, flatterers are not friends in need. Their praise is as transitory as the wind.

Why are “words” compared to “wind” in the poem “Friends and Flatterers”?

The words of flatterers are compared to the “wind” as like the wind in fair weather; it does not last long. They ride along with us as long as we have resources to share. When their need dries up, they instantly desert us without a second thought.

How do the last two lines explain the true intent of the poem?

The true intent of the poem is to educate readers about “certain signs” that help us to differentiate a faithful friend from a flattering enemy. The last two lines of “Friends and Flatterers” does it efficiently.

What is the meaning of “flattering foe”?

The term “flattering foe” hints at the fact that those who spill sweet words in our good times are none other than our enemies, waiting to show our catastrophe. They somehow lead us to our own moral destruction.

What are the signs of a “flattering foe”?

Shakespeare says there are a number of signs to know a “flattering foe”: they use our wealth, give company for their own benefits, and maroon us at the slightest hint of misfortune.

What happens to your flatterers when your luck turns bad?

When our luck turns terrible, flatterers stop to praise us—those who flattered us before now leave our company without a second thought.

What does the frown of Fortune mean? What happens when fortune frowns at a person?

In “Friends and Flatterers,” Shakespeare personifies “Fortune.” He says, if Fortune becomes displeased (frowns) or refrain from favouring us, the sweet-talking, so-called friends avoid our company.

What does the poet mean by “store of crowns”?

The “store of crowns” is a symbol of wealth, resourcefulness, and fortune. In Shakespeare’s time, crowns were used as currency. So, the “store of crowns” literally means one’s good fortune.

What would flatterers say if one is wasteful?

If one is prodigal or wasteful, the flatterers would call them bountiful. They would further wish him to be a king.

How do flatterers respond when a person becomes rich or extravagant?

When a person becomes rich or extravagant, flatterers become his friends. They will always be there for him as long as he has money.

What does the poet mean by a “friend in misery”?

A “friend in misery” means one who stands by us in our sorrow. At times of grave need, true friends are always there to share our pain and comfort us.

Why does the poet allude to the story of the Prodigal Son?

The Parable of the Prodigal Son has several morals. One of them is how false friends desert the youngest son (who is prodigal or extravagant) to fend for himself during his dark times. When he had his father’s wealth, they fawned him. But, when his share went down, there was only his father to take him out of his misery.


Similar Poems with Life Lessons

  • Our revels now are ended” by William Shakespeare — This soliloquy is regarded as Shakespeare’s “retirement speech”, in which he talks about the brevity of life and the inevitability of death.
  • Flower on the Road” by Chitra Padmanabhan — This poem teaches us how nobody is less important in this big frame of humankind. Everyone has their part to play.
  • Fear” by Khalil Gibran — This poem is about overcoming fear, which is presented through the metaphors of a river and the vast ocean.
  • The Huntsman” by Edward Lowbury — This piece is about the importance of commonsense and the consequences of unmindful talking.
  • On Another’s Sorrow” by William Blake — This poem is about divine compassion and empathy.


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